Published: 6 November 2015

Interview: Primo Levi biographer, Carole Angier to deliver 2015 Lucrezia Zaina Lecture

Carole Angier

The internationally acclaimed biographer of Italian Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi will deliver the 2015 Lucrezia Zaina lecture.

Carole Angier, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, was lauded for her exhaustive work on Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian chemist who lived to describe the horrors of concentration camp life and death under the Nazi regime.

Devoting herself entirely to the subjects she chooses, Carole’s only previous biography considered author, Jean Rhys and was first published in 1985.

Carole, who will deliver her lecture at the Guild of Students on Thursday, 12 November, said: “All the people I have written about I have fallen in love with and chosen entirely through reading.

“I never write about historical figures. I only write about writers and only about contemporary writers – and they have to be dead. I couldn’t write about living people.

“My first subject, Jean Rhys published between the 1930s-60s and lived from 1890 to 1979. My next subject, Primo Levi was born in 1919 and died in 1987. I started the biography in the 90s.

“I am always trying to find the living people who remember the person; to get access to the living before they disappear. As well as the research work, I am always interviewing people. It’s wonderful fun.

“I am a failed academic – I’m trained to PhD and I taught as well – and biography combines all that research in libraries and archives, which I adore, with the other side which is all about human contact.”

Carole Angier’s work on Primo Levi, entitled The Double Bond and published in 2002, was described by the New York Times as “remarkable in all senses of the word”. Carole faced significant obstacles, not least from Primo’s mother who refused an interview or access to the subject’s papers, but says the completion of the work left her with a feeling of “great loss”.

Carole said: “It is a great loss and it’s extremely nice that people want to talk about it because that way I don’t lose him, he isn’t just in my imagination and I get to speak about him.”

Carole is currently working on a biography of WG Sebold, and says that notions of exile and migration draw her to her subjects. British by birth, her only previous visits to Liverpool were docking in the port following long trips across the Atlantic back from her adopted childhood home in Canada.

She added: “I have lived in Britain most of my life. It feels like home to me but I am still a foreigner and my subjects are always foreigners. I don’t write about English people.

“That’s what speaks to me – exile, migration and what happens when people lose initial certainties.”

This lecture is funded by a generous legacy bequest from Professor Lucrezia Zaina, known as Lexie, who was a lecturer in French and Italian at the University from 1964 until 1988.

The Lucrezia Zaina Lecture 2015, featuring Carole Angier, takes place on Thursday, November 12 from 5.30pm in the Guild of Students. Tickets are free but booking is required, for more information and to book, please visit:

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